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Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health

Overeating May Double Risk of Memory Loss for Seniors, Earlier Study Suggests Opposite

Study released today seems in conflict to one from last month concerning senior citizens, being over-weight and memory loss

Feb. 13, 2012 – New research suggests that consuming between 2,100 and 6,000 calories per day may double the risk of memory loss, or mild cognitive impairment (MCI), among senior citizens age 70 and older. It seems to conflict with research released last month suggesting that weight loss or a low body mass index (BMI) later in life may be an early warning sign of mental decline.

MCI is the stage between normal memory loss that comes with aging and early Alzheimer's disease.


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"We observed a dose-response pattern which simply means; the higher the amount of calories consumed each day, the higher the risk of MCI," said study author Yonas E. Geda, MD, MSc, with the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

This study involved 1,233 people between the ages of 70 and 89 and free of dementia residing in Olmsted County, Minn. Of those, 163 had MCI.

Participants reported the amount of calories they ate or drank in a food questionnaire and were divided into three equal groups based on their daily caloric consumption. One-third of the participants consumed between 600 and 1,526 calories per day, one-third between 1,526 and 2,143 and one-third consumed between 2,143 and 6,000 calories per day.

The odds of having MCI more than doubled for those in the highest calorie-consuming group compared to those in the lowest calorie-consuming group. The results were the same after adjusting for history of stroke, diabetes, amount of education, and other factors that can affect risk of memory loss. There was no significant difference in risk for the middle group.

"Cutting calories and eating foods that make up a healthy diet may be a simpler way to prevent memory loss as we age," said Geda.

This research will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 64th Annual Meeting in New Orleans April 21 to April 28, 2012. The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Robert H. and Clarice Smith and Abigail van Buren Alzheimer's Disease Research Program.

The co-authors of the study include Ronald C. Petersen, MD, Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, and other investigators of the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging in Rochester, Minn.

Conflicting Results in Earlier Study

Over Weight Seniors Have Lower Risk of Alzheimer’s

In a blog on the AAN website for patients, Daniel C. Potts, MD, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, pointed out in January that although ”obesity in middle age predicts an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease in later life,” another study published earlier in Neurology suggests “older people seem to have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease if they are overweight."

Lead author Jeffrey M. Burns, M.D., from the University of Kansas Alzheimer's Disease Center, says in this study that non-overweight individuals from age 60s to 80s who have no symptoms of Alzheimer's are more likely than their heavier peers to have biomarkers of Alzheimer's disease.

“In their analysis a lower body mass index (BMI) was associated with higher levels of biomarkers and a higher likelihood of having brain plaques and tangles, the predominant pathologic changes seen in the brains of Alzheimer's patients,” writes Potts in his blog.

“Among people with mild cognitive impairment, for instance, 85 percent of non-overweight individuals had signs of these brain abnormalities, compared to just 48 percent of those who were overweight or obese. (A BMI of 25 or above is considered overweight.) This finding raises the possibility that weight loss or a low body mass index (BMI) later in life may be an early warning sign of mental decline.

“Researchers have some theories about why there is a relationship between weight and Alzheimer's disease. Importantly, the relationship is a correlation and the studies don't address how one may cause the other.

“For example, although Alzheimer's is traditionally thought of as a brain disease, it may have effects on the body that can present early on. Well before memory loss and other symptoms appear, Alzheimer's may trigger changes in metabolism that promote weight loss.

“The relationship between weight loss and the progression of Alzheimer's may be a two-way street. People who start to experience declines in mental function may shop for groceries less regularly, cook less frequently, and eat less—and the poor nutrition that results could in turn accelerate the progression of the disease.”

For more on this blog – click here.

Learn more about Alzheimer's disease at

The American Academy of Neurology, reports it is an association of more than 25,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as stroke, Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.

>> Academy's Website for Patients and Caregivers

>> Academy on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube

More information:

>> Your Heart, Your Belly and Alzheimer's

>> Dementia in the Workplace: How long should someone with dementia keep working?

>> Some Kind of Wonderful, Indeed: For actress Lea Thompson, Alzheimer's disease advocate is the role of a lifetime

>> Alzheimer's Disease Studies

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